When I recommend meditation, people often say to me, ‘I don’t need to meditate; I exercise everyday,’ or ‘I already spend a lot of time by myself,’ or ‘I have a 2 hour commute everyday- that’s when I gather my thoughts’ or ‘I reflect on life when I am drifting off to sleep.’ This leads to the question, do meditation and reflection have the same effect?
The answer is no.
Reflection gives us insight into our own thoughts, or what psychologists call meta-cognition. Reflection or metacognition allow us to understand how we operate- but it doesn’t necessarily change how we operate. Metacognition tells us what we know and what we don’t know. It gives us insight into our strengths and weaknesses. It helps us analyse ourselves and others. When we reflect on ourselves or our lives, we simply get to know ourselves better. We absorb ourselves in our mind in order to understand it. This is key to high achievement, but it doesn’t change our brains. Meditation actually rewires our brain so that some neural connections wither away while new connections are created.
What do our brains look like before we start a meditation practice?
According to UCLA psychiatrist Rebecca Gladding, our brains prior to meditation have strong connections between the prefrontal cortex, the insula and the amygdala. What this means is that there are strong links between how we see ourselves, how we experience others, and how we experience fear.
So Gladding tells us that a person’s brain before meditation would:
– experience bodily sensations as problems,
– be more likely to experience anxiety and fear, and
– get stuck in loops of thought about life, mistakes, and how people feel about us.
We are more likely to take things personally, overthink, dwell on things and worry. For more info from Gladding on this, click here.
So what happens to the brain during meditation?
It actually gets rewired. We see ourselves and others from a clearer perspective. Anxiety reduces, and our capacity to empathise is strengthened. Rather than taking everything personally, we are more balanced and rational. The disclaimer: you must meditate daily to experience these effects. If you do not keep up a daily practice, you won’t see the benefits.
This is so powerful. We now know that we have the ability to change our brains through a simple, gentle, daily practice.
If you aren’t meditating already, start today!